Picture of putty knife to illustrate scraping

Put that putty knife away. There will be no scraping around here.

For all you SEO professionals who have to constantly crank out quality content, don’t you love Google’s image search?  When I need to dress up an article, I just do an image search, pay a little visit to the site that has the image I want to use, right click on the image, and save it to my hard drive.  Then I can drop it into a blog post, an article, put it up on Facebook…whatever.  It’s never been easier to find quality photos.  And best of all it’s free.  This practice is called “scraping,” and I’ve done it many times.

Oh, and I almost forgot…


Several months ago I radically changed my behavior and ceased and desisted from all such scraping.  I’d like to say that I had an agonizing night where I came to grips with my unethical desire to have something for nothing; where I experienced a re-examination of my core principles and my commitment to the rights of an artist to his creative output; where I engaged in a wrestling with my own hypocrisy, thereby defeating it and paving the wave for my integrity to rise triumphant.

Sadly, that’s not the reason I stopped scraping.  The reason I stopped is that I got a polite but firm email from a photographer whose work I had pilfered.  No, I had not tried to rip the guy off.  I just did a Google image search and grabbed what looked good.   The photographer in question gave me a couple of interesting links, and I share them with you at the bottom of this article.  I’ll give you the 1-minute summary:

image of gears to represent the internal workings

Let's Understand This

  • Scraping an image is a violation of copyright law
  • The aggrieved party (i.e. the party whose work you are using without permission, otherwise known as the “scrapee”) can sue you even if they can’t prove damages
  • You could loose thousands of dollars, either in a judgment, legal fees, or an extorted settlement. (Did I say “extorted”?  Well, bite my tongue and allow me to retract that.  I meant to say a “mutually acceptable” settlement.)
  • You might get your first notice from a law firm who has a financial interest in making you pay through the nose and who will not, I repeat will not, be satisfied if you just remove the image and apologize.
Sometimes the practice of “don’t ask permission, beg forgiveness” works.  This is a case where it does not.  The article link I give you below is the true story of a web developer who ended up paying $4000 for a $10 photo that they scraped.
I’m happy to say that the photographer who gave me notice was extremely lenient.  He did request a payment, but it was modest (I think it was about $100).  If he had been greedy he could have done a lot more damage to me.

Note that this is not a pure SEO tip.  It will not help you rank higher in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).  Nor is it a tip that will help you convert more traffic.  Nor is it even a tip about how to improve your SEO efficiency and cost effectiveness.  But I think this tip is important enough that it might save you a world of frustration and thousands of dollars.

Increasingly SEO is about creating content that is high quality.  I advise you to create content that is themed according to your target keywords, but which is also engaging to human visitors.  An important point of creating that interest is photography.  So it’s only natural that we would be tempted to snag photos from a Google or Bing image search.  At the same time, when quality photos can be purchased very cheaply, so the temptation is pretty minimal.

For web content highlight photos I typically use BigStockPhoto.com.  I buy 100 credits for $169 and usually will use 1 credit for an image.  Considering the fact that the quality is high, the searching is more efficient, and the risk is, well, not there, it’s a no brainer.

Now about those links:

Legal Lesson Learned: Copywriter Pays $4000 for a $10 Photo

The 7 Deadly Myths of Internet Copyright (pay attention kiddos, this one is written by a lawyer…no hissing or booing please)